With Eastern Conference's longest active playoff drought, Hurricanes turn focus toward future

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Carolina Hurricanes' Justin Faulk (27) tips the puck away from Detroit Red Wings' Tomas Tatar (21) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, April 11, 2015, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)


Carolina Hurricanes' Cam Ward watches the puck go wide of the net after a face-off in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Philadelphia.(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)


RALEIGH, North Carolina — The general manager was new this season for the Carolina Hurricanes. So was the coach.

Many of the players were the same. And so was the end result.

The last-place Hurricanes prepared for another long offseason after missing the playoffs for an Eastern Conference-worst sixth straight year.

When first-year GM Ron Francis hired Bill Peters last summer, the new coach said he wanted the Hurricanes to have stronger starts, more production on the power play and more wins at home.

They gave up the first goal in 46 of 82 games, had a middle-of-the-pack power play and finished just 18-16-7 at PNC Arena.

They wrapped up another dismal season Saturday night with a 2-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Carolina averaged just 2.23 goals — the fourth-worst in the league.

"Our problem, for the most part, is scoring enough goals to win games," defenseman Ron Hainsey said. Winning "1-0, 2-1 games is tough. We just weren't able to do that over the course of the season and that's the biggest thing we need to improve on.

"Whether that's (defensemen) getting the puck to the forwards a little faster, in a better spot, (so) they can create more quicker, and more guys around the net, maybe a little bit higher percentage, maybe we can fix those things," he added. "It's a team effort. Not just one thing."

Carolina (30-41-11) finished with its fewest victories in a full season since it had 28 in 2003-04, and lost 40 in regulation for the first time since 2002-03.

The Hurricanes have made the playoffs just once (2009) since they beat Edmonton in the 2006 Stanley Cup final — and the Oilers, who haven't made it since then, are the only team in the NHL with a longer active postseason drought.

No doubt, injuries played a role — Carolina lost key forward Jordan Staal for the first three months after he broke a bone in his leg during a preseason game. Without him, the Hurricanes lost their first eight games and never really recovered completely.

It also certainly didn't help that some of their highest-paid players had poor seasons — most notably Alexander Semin. The Hurricanes' $7 million forward had just six goals and 13 assists in 57 games while his numbers sharply declined for a second straight year.

Peters didn't single anyone out when he said after the Detroit loss that "you guys know who had good years and you know who didn't. And so do we. There's no hiding that."

There were some bright spots. Carolina's penalty-kill unit ranked fourth in the league and the Hurricanes allowed just 27.3 shots on goal per game — the third-best total in the NHL. All-Star Justin Faulk, who ranked second on the team with 49 points, continued his steady development.

And some promising young players — Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask at center and Chris Terry on the left wing — gave legitimate reason for optimism, not just for 2015-16 but beyond.

And the Hurricanes even have an 8.5 percent shot at winning the draft lottery and claiming the No. 1 overall pick — not a great chance, but a chance nonetheless. They'll have 10 draft picks with which they can stock their developmental system.

"We've got to be prepared for next season and get off to a good start," said Lindholm, the team's first-round pick in 2013. "And hopefully we can be a top team next year."


Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

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